David Ayer's Fury, is out now in UK cinemas. It's a thrilling, horrifying war movie that strips conflict down to the bare bones of adrenaline, a race to survive reinforced by the relative naivety of Logan Lerman's newcomer to the group piloting a Sherman tank (played by Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal).
The director and cast gathered to talk about the film at the London Film Festival. Here are five things we learned from the Fury press conference:
1. Working with David Ayer is tough
David Ayer has always had a thing for action and chaos: in End of Watch, he covered Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal in cameras to get a handheld sense of urgency. It's a tough gig, says Michael: "Working with David is like getting a root canal. It sucks."
But the pair continue to work together, despite the dental pain. "I wrote the role of Gordo with Michael in mind," admits David.
2. Each character had a detailed back-story
Each character had a detailed back-story, says Logan: "We all had very specific back stories. we worked for months before shooting." Lerman know where he came from, what his is father did, his education…
But David chose not to include any of those scenes where the group's backstories were mentioned. "It ultimately became a directorial choice to cut out the now-I'm-going-to-tell-the-audience-who-they-are-stuff," says Ayer. "It's testament to how good the cast are that we didn't need the standard issue stuff."
3. Fury is not a film about sides
Fury is "not a film about sides", says Brad Pitt. "It's a film about acute psychological trauma."
Indeed, the claustrophobic experience of the soldiers facing the horror of conflict is all the more effective for its visceral, apolitical focus.
For the director, the bond between the cast was central to communicating that.
"It's about a family. This family happens to drive around a tank and kill people," comments David.
"Talking to vets, even vets who have recently come home, one said war is ludicrous. You can't look at it," adds Pitt. "We constantly slip into conflict no matter how much we evolve... always."
One journalist asks another question along those lines. Pitt looks at him and says he has nothing more to add. Well, quite.
4. Shia LaBeouf found the project extremely rewarding
Shia LaBeouf's preparation to play the role of Bible-reading Boyd has been widely covered in the media, from reportedly not washing to cutting himself on the cheek to make his scars look real.
Shia looks into the distance as inane questions about what it's like to be at the London Film Festival, but lights up when asked about what he got from the film.
"This has been the most rewarding project for me in my life," he says. "Extremely rewarding."
This is also the most dedicated film Logan Lerman has ever been a part of: "After reading the script, it was this or nothing."
"We emulated out relationship in the movie - so I guess there was a lot of conflict on set," the actors joke.
"I was the new kid," laughs Lerman, "so that's how I was treated!"
Staying in the mindset was tough, says Jon Bernthal, who plays ammunitions man Coon-ass.
"It's our job to be in the mindset as dark and dangerous as possible. You wrap, you fight, you work out, you sleep. Any outside influence, computers, etc, were the enemy."
"Going home after that, it is tough," he continues, but points out how their job is nothing compared to actual soldiers. "I came out of it with respect for the guys who do go to battle and have battle ringing between their ears. I'm just a monkey wearing make-up."
5. David Ayer doesn't like digital
"Either you're making a film or you're making videos," says David Ayer on the choice between digital and celluloid.
"We tested various platforms. There's such a subtle palette and patina to the world we designed that in digital you ended up with blacks and muddy greens…"
Pitt, though, reckons there's "no difference".
"I'm game for either," he says. "I love film, but digital is now… finding its own aesthetic."
6. Brad Pitt spent most of the time on set in the tank
The cast actually used a Sherman tank - and filmed in a slightly larger replica.
"The turret turned, the gun loaded, the radio transmitter received…" says David. "it was utterly maddening to film it for me. I like a lot of coverage. I would just go in a corner and cry while it took hours to light this thing."
For the cast, it was essential to getting into the right mindset.
"There's nothing ergonomic all about a tank," says Pitt. "It's not made for habitation in any way!"
"As we got to know the tank, we got to know the comfort spots, where you could put your coffee. We became quite proprietary over our home!" he jokes.
Ayer notes, though, that between takes, "Brad would stay inside of the tank on set".
"It was like his eagle's nest!" he adds.